HANOI — President Trump on Sunday appeared to ridicule North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as “short and fat,” and he lashed out at critics of his relationship with Russia's leader, saying they are “haters and fools” who don't understand the merits of a good relationship with Moscow.
The morning tweetstorm came as Trump prepared for bilateral meetings with Vietnamese leaders, including a scheduled news conference where he could face more questions about the topics he addressed on Twitter.
Trump's taunt of Kim came after the North Korean leader again called him a “dotard,” a term describing an old person who is losing his mental faculties. Trump, 71, sarcastically responded that he hopes one day to be friends with Kim, who oversees a developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenal.
Later, after a bilateral meeting with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, Trump was asked at a joint news conference whether he thought it really was possible to be friends with Kim.
“I believe it's possible. Strange things happen in life,” Trump said. “If it did happen, it would be a good thing for North Korea, and a good thing for lots of other places and good for the world. Certainly it's something that could happen. I don't know if it will, but it would be very, very nice if it did.”
White House chief of staff John Kelly, chatting briefly with reporters after Trump's press conference Sunday in Hanoi, was asked about the president's descriptive tweet about the North Korean leader. Kelly dismissed the question, saying he and his West Wing team try not to react to their boss's tweets.
“We don't, I don't, I don't allow the staff to,” Kelly said, adding that the tweets “are what they are.”
Kelly said the White House staff prepared Trump for the trip in more traditional ways: “We did the staff work, got him ready to go, and then at each place we brief him up on whatever the next event is and all that,” he said. “The tweets don’t run my life — good staff work runs it.”
On Twitter and at the news conference, Trump also returned to a favorite theme of bashing critics who have accused him of being soft on Russia in the wake of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's ongoing investigation into his campaign's ties to Russian officials and possible attempts at collusion. Trump has denied that his campaign coordinated in any way with Moscow during last year's presidential campaign, and he said Saturday that Russian President Vladimir Putin again denied any involvement in trying to influence the U.S. elections when Trump spoke with him at a regional summit in Danang, Vietnam.
On Twitter, Trump also slammed President Barack Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for failing to improve relations with Russia.
The president's remarks in a wide-ranging talk with reporters on Air Force One en route to Hanoi on Saturday and in his Sunday morning tweets have sharply punctured the careful messaging he and his aides had sought to deliver on a five-nation, 12-day trip through Asia. Trump will travel to Manila on Sunday evening for two days of regional conferences and a bilateral meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.